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The family tourism market is arguably more important now than it has ever been. Ninety-two per cent of travellers with children plan to take at least one family holiday in 2010, up by 4 per cent from last year. This article takes a look at the ways in which the family income is spent and finds that a substantial proportion is on the family holiday. It considers the impact of the changing make-up of families on the family product and the factors influencing family leisure and tourism. Author, Carol Southall, concludes with some recommendations to meet the needs of this market and suggestions that foresight demonstrated now is likely to pay dividends in the future.
Although the family holiday was firmly embedded in working class culture as far back as the early 1900s, it was the entrepreneur Billy Butlin who was perhaps most influential in his impact on the British family holiday market. He was amongst the first to recognise the importance of the family holiday. In the mid-1930s he set up his first holiday camp in Skegness to accommodate the growing number of families looking for an escape from daily routine. The holidays were priced between 35 shillings and £3 a week and advertised in the Daily Express newspaper .
'In the 1920s only 17 per cent of the population had paid holidays and during the 1930s only three million of the population had holidays with pay. This had changed by 1939 when 11 million people in the UK received holidays with pay and Butlins attracted almost 100,000 visitors to Skegness and a second camp at Clacton in Essex. It is estimated that by 1948 one in twenty holidaymakers stayed at Butlins camps.'
For many years such holidays were the epitome of British holidaymaking, enabling families to seek a brief respite from what were historically dark and depressing times. Through Butlin and later Fred Pontin, holidays were available to those who had previously not been in a position to afford such a luxury. Low-cost meant that for the first time families could take a well-earned break from routine.
As access to road-based transportation increased, so the coast and countryside opened to the masses, increasing the types of holiday available to families. With the advent of mass tourism by air came further opportunities for family holidays outside the UK. The importance of such developments should not be underestimated.
Whether as a form of escapism or as a route to self-fulfilment and relaxation, the family holiday remains as important now as it was in the mid-1900s.
A new study by TripAdvisor  has revealed that ninety-two per cent of travellers with children plan to take at least one family holiday in 2010, up by 4 per cent from last year, stressing the importance of the family holiday.
The same study indicates that one-third of families plan to take domestic and international holidays. According to almost half the parents interviewed, the opportunity to spend quality family time together is the most enjoyable aspect of the holiday.
The family tourism market is arguably more important now, as we enter the next decade, than it has ever been. The children within today’s families are the customers of tomorrow. Their consumption, experiences and enjoyment will shape the way they structure their own family holidays in years to come. Whilst this is nothing new, in an environment where organisations are continually fighting for market share, foresight demonstrated now is likely to pay dividends in the future.
In many ways defining ‘family tourism’ is a simple task. The family unit is generally considered to consist of parent or parents and one or more children. According to Mintel  the family lifestage is one of four main lifestage groups, the others being pre-family/no family, third age and retired.
Twenty seven per cent of the population are categorised as being in the family lifestage which is defined as people of any age with at least one child. If the extended family is also taken into account, then additionally the family may consist of grandparents, aunts, uncles and other family members. For the purposes of this research, the ‘family’ referred to is that of people of any age with at least one child.
Family tourism therefore, involves the family unit and their participation in diverse forms of tourism activity. This article will focus on the importance of the family tourism market, both from an economic perspective and also as a firm customer base for organisations involved in the provision of products and services to this market, such as tour operators, transport and accommodation providers, destination management organisations and attractions.
In order to consider the value of the family tourism market, it is important to consider some statistics related to family expenditure.
According to The 2008 Living Costs and Food Survey, the average weekly household expenditure in the UK in 2008 was £471.00 compared to £459.20 in 2007. Spending was highest, as in previous years, on transport at £63.40 per week, followed by recreation and culture at £60.10 per week. Other important categories from a tourism and leisure perspective were expenditure on food and non-alcoholic drinks at £50.70 and restaurants and hotels at £37.70.
Interestingly, almost a quarter (24 per cent) of the expenditure on recreation and culture each week was spent on package holidays (£14.70 per week), most of which were holidays outside the UK (£13.60). Only £1.90 per week was spent on cinema, theatre and museum admission with almost three times that amount (£4.80) being spent weekly on TV, video and computers.
Expenditure on recreation and culture, as a proportion of total spending, climbs steadily in households with a Household Reference Person (HRP) between the ages of 30 and 74, from 9 per cent with an HRP under 30, to 18 per cent among households with an HRP aged between 65 and 74. Conversely expenditure on restaurants and hotels fluctuates between 8 and 9 per cent in households with a HRP aged between 30 and 60 and then steadily declines thereafter.
Figure 1 shows the average weekly household expenditure across all UK households between 2006 and 2008 on five key commodities or services. The inclusion of the five commodities or services listed is designed to show a comparison between expenditure on what may be classified as essential items, i.e. food and clothing, and those services which may be classed as non-essential or luxury items. It is recognised, however, that a significant component of transport expenditure is likely to be on accessing the workplace.
Although expenditure differed across income groups, in some cases quite significantly, as is evident from a more detailed statistical comparison, what is clear is that many households, regardless of their make-up (one or more children, age etc) allocate a significant proportion of their weekly expenditure to tourism and leisure products and services. In all cases, more money is allocated to the pursuit of recreational and cultural activities than to the basic essentials of food, clothing and footwear.
|Commodity or service||Two adult households with children||One adult households with children||*HRP aged 65 to 74||*HRP aged under 30 to 49|
|Food & non-alcoholic drinks||£66.60||£40.50||£44.90||£54.30|
|Clothing & footwear||£32.70||£20.50||£13.60||£28.70|
|Recreation & culture||£78.20||£40.70||£55.70||£67.00|
|Restaurants & hotels||£48.70||£21.40||£24.00||£46.80|
* HRP – Household Reference Person
Source: Adapted from The 2008 Living Costs and Food Survey (ONS, 2010).
Additional statistics which are of interest are outlined below.
- Almost three-quarters (74 per cent) of all households in the UK own a car or van. This figure is higher in the East and South West (83 per cent) and lower in London (63 per cent) and the North East (66 per cent). In 1970 52 per cent of all households in the UK owned a car or van.
- Almost three-quarters (72 per cent) of all households in the UK have a home computer and two-thirds (66 per cent) have an Internet connection. This figure is higher (98 per cent with computer and 96 per cent with Internet connection) in households in the highest income group.
- Households with children were more likely to have a home computer with an Internet connection.
With a significant number of families having access to cars and the Internet, and being prepared to spend a proportion of their hard-earned income on tourism and leisure products and services, the tourism industry needs more than ever to consider how best to attract and retain this market in a difficult economic climate.
One of the first family travel websites was www.Takethefamily.com, offering advice, destinations and ability to make bookings. The site, launched in 2004, covers UK and worldwide destinations. It was developed because there was :
'…a real gap in the market for a comprehensive, online, family-friendly holiday website…[and]…The growth in internet use, and particularly the rapid expansion in broadband households, makes online holiday booking the natural choice…. '
The site also has a ‘take the family blog’
enabling people to share ideas and experiences of travelling with children.
According to Mintel (2009)  there are a number of trends in the family market which are likely to impact, in some cases quite significantly, upon the way families spend their leisure time. These are summarised below.
- The family leisure market is challenged by demographic trends including a rise in single-parent families, a rise in the proportion of ABC1 families (11 per cent over the past decade) and rising socio-economic inequalities.
- One third of families with working mothers rely on grandparents for childcare and there is a growing demand for grandparent/grandchildren and multi-generational family leisure.
- There was a 19 per cent increase in the UK birth rate between 2001 and 2008 which means that the shape of the family is set to change with an increase in children aged under ten and a decrease in those aged 10-19. Mintel (2009) argues that leisure products for younger families are likely to see greater growth.
Such trends have already led to recognition by a range of tourism organisations that products and services are to be adapted if they are to meet the changing needs of the market. Indeed Mintel (2009) also report that the family holiday sector has already seen a shift towards all-inclusive overseas products, visiting and staying with friends and relatives, and perceived value options such as camping and holiday parks.
The holiday park, in particular, is ideally placed to cater for the demand for multi-generational family leisure, where entertainment to suit a range of ages is often a key aspect of any product offering (see the January 2010 Tourism Insights article Camping and Caravanning: Why So Popular and is it Sustainable?).
There may also be a future requirement to meet the needs of the growing number of travellers who have spent significant amounts of time travelling independently around the world, whether as a part of a gap year or during a career break. These allocentric travellers are likely to become mid-centric as they progress through their travel lifecycle and become parents. If so, they will seek more established destinations which they perceive to offer the safety and security necessary for travel with children.
Nonetheless, there is a distinct demand for family holidays outside of the remit of holiday camps, inclusive packages, visiting friends and relatives and camping. Such demand originates from these former independent travellers who want to take their own families on the first steps to independent travel.
According to Mintel (2009)  there are a number of factors that families consider when deciding what leisure activities to pursue outside the home.
These are listed in Figure 2 below, in order of importance (most important first). Notably, the availability of offers and discounts is the most important factor for families in choosing leisure activities, including half of ABC1 families and 46 per cent of those with household incomes over £50,000.
Research by Tesco Bank in a recent Travelmole  article endorses this, indicated that more than four out of ten parents take their children out of school for holidays during term-time because of peak period price rises. Almost two-thirds of parents who take their children out of school indicate that they are unable to afford a holiday in peak time due to higher prices. Parents also bemoaned the fact that there appear to be fewer ‘free’ child places available than there were some years ago.
Many family holidaymakers focus on savings to be made with advance booking. Market-savvy consumers, however, are realising that for many operators the sale that ends on Sunday may well be resumed in another guise shortly thereafter.
|1.||Family offers/child discounts|
|3.||Safety and security for children|
|4.||Where children say they want to go|
|5.||Children’s entertainment at or near the venue|
|6.||Somewhere other families are likely to go|
|8.||Children’s food menu|
|10.||Good public transport links|
|11.||Children can use up excess energy|
|12.||Provision for teenagers to do their own thing|
|14.||Easy access for pushchairs/prams|
|15.||Bar/catering facilities suitable for adults|
Source: Mintel (December 2009) Family Leisure – UK. Issues in the Market
It is important that tourism organisations use these factors as a guideline for their own activities, products and services. Whilst not all may be relevant to all organisations, it is undoubtedly the case that many can be applied to the product offering upon adaptation.
For example, travel by air is stressful for families, particularly those with small children. The TripAdvisor study  confirmed that aeroplanes are the most stressful form of transport when it comes to travelling with children.
The provision of the following could make it a much more pleasurable experience:
- family-friendly parking facilities (such as those found at supermarkets) with wider spaces near to airport terminals
- the offer of child-friendly, supervised play areas in airport terminals located near to food outlets offering a range of items to suit even the tiniest of taste-buds with facilities such as bottle warmers
- a designated check-in desk for families travelling with young children
- pre-boarding of aircraft for families with babies and young children pushchair drop-off at and collection from aircraft available at all airports.
It is recognised that, in this example, the facilities described may not all be provided by a single organisation. What is important, however, is that a systems approach to the needs of this sector, whether across a range of businesses or within one business, can facilitate family travel.
A final point of note from the TripAdvisor study  is that almost half of parents rely on DVDs or TVs to entertain their children en-route to destination. The growth in electronic entertainment as a prerequisite for travel accompaniment is one that operators should be aware of and adapt to where possible. Many in-flight entertainment systems already include their own entertainment offering for children.
It is often said that the quality of service provision is the factor that will ultimately attract and retain business. This is no less pertinent in the family tourism market, where possible budgetary constraints do not mean enforced increased acceptance of poor quality products and services. Provision of second-rate, poorly maintained car seats by car hire companies, old and poorly maintained cots by accommodation providers and dirty highchairs with missing parts by restaurants should be unimaginable. Unfortunately this is not the case, both in the UK and worldwide.
Additionally, whilst parents do not expect staff to understand how to deal with children – who are, after all, the parent’s responsibility – they do expect them to recognise the specific needs incurred in travelling with children and to facilitate the travel experience. A simple explanation of what to do, a helping hand with a pushchair, effective signage in an attraction or airport terminal, all help to make life easier for the travelling family. More importantly they incur minimal cost to the organisation.
Given the diverse nature of the modern-day family it is important that tourism organisations offer a range of flexible products and services to meet the needs of this complex market. Recommendations include the following.
- Consider ticketing that takes into account the changing family structure, eg one adult and one or more children rather than the two adults, two children ‘norm’.
- Offer additional training related to the customer service needs of the family market.
- The demand for multi-generational products is likely to increase. Organisations need to consider how best to adapt their product to suit the demands and needs of the multi-generational family package.
- Whilst many organisations recognise the needs of single parent families and cater accordingly, there are still many that fail to do so. Discounts or offers that recognise this family structure will increase business.
- It is important not to underestimate the potential of ‘pester power’. The use of social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook is continuing to demonstrate unprecedented growth. Usage is also spreading to older age groups. According to Mintel (2009)  children are enthusiastic early adopters of online social networking and over 50 per cent of children aged 8 to 17 are likely to have a page or profile on a social networking site. With this in mind, organisations could consider adapting their marketing approach to reach the child as well as the parent. Whilst at times this may be a potential minefield in terms of legislation protecting children, this can be an enormously effective way of reaching and influencing the family travel market.
Family tourism is undoubtedly a growth market, despite the prevailing economic climate. Recognition of the specific needs of this market may prove, for many tourism organisations, to be the differentiator between long-term success and failure.
Paying ‘lip service’ to the needs of the family market through the provision of baby changing facilities, cots and highchairs, will be insufficient to retain business. Experienced travellers seek reassurance that their family will be safely and securely, and perhaps more significantly, comfortably, accommodated in all aspects of their travel arrangements. This extends from the provision of standard facilities such as changing tables, through to quality service provision recognising their specific needs.
The search for ‘quality time together’ is the key to understanding this highly price- and quality-sensitive market. The fact that many families are unwilling to forgo their family holiday, even in difficult economic circumstances, indicates that this is a market segment which, with the right level of nurturing, will prove to be lucrative for operators taking the time and effort to recognise and accommodate its needs.
Carol Southall studied tourism and languages in London in the late 1980s. She was a Tour Guide and Contracts Manager for an international coach tour operator before taking a year out to travel around the world. In the mid-1990s Carol began a teaching career, initially in further, and later in higher education, alongside which she continued to plan and escort tours to destinations including Singapore, Australia, USA, Iceland and South Africa. Carol holds a Masters Degree in Tourism Management and a recently attained a PCV licence. Research interests primarily focus on tourism quality management.